In Venezuela, Trying to Map Out Blueprint for Lost City

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[A] weathered sign next to a garbage pile briefly describes the rise and fall of Nueva Cádiz, by 1515 a slaving center and the flash point for Latin America’s first frenzied commodities boom, built around pearls. By 1541, the sign says, “The depleted oyster beds put a final end to the city.”...

Nueva Cádiz is now largely forgotten, even in Venezuela. Scholars occasionally drop by for a glimpse into the dawn of the Spanish conquest, and archaeologists sometimes obtain permits to dig here. Otherwise Cubagua’s ruins, which might rank among the most important post-Columbian archaeological sites in the Americas, are a lost city — in effect, if not in name.

“To this day I do not understand why anyone would build a city here,” said Enrique Suárez, 60, a fisherman who lives in a house built of driftwood and discarded tin on the edge of the ruins.

Left vulnerable to the elements and mainland looters, the city’s walls now stand no more than a few feet high. A concrete historical marker erected in the early 1990s lies ravaged by vandals.

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